Even though the measure passed Congress without a single dissenting vote, President Obama this week spotted potentially nefarious side effects in an arcane bill to rewrite rules on notarized documents, issuing only the second veto of his presidency Thursday.
The move took lawmakers on Capitol Hill by surprise.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Robert B. Aderholt, an Alabama Republican, said those who have raised objections are “misunderstanding” what the bill would have done, and some Republicans are arguing that Mr. Obama’s veto — technically a “pocket veto” in which he simply refuses to sign the measure — may not even be legal under the standards Democrats applied to President George W. Bush in 2007.
“This is a bill that would help people, and I am disappointed that it was vetoed,” Mr. Aderholt said.
The legislation — a mere 334 words long — would have required states to recognize documents notarized in other states. Right now, backers said, some states reject documents from other states for reasons as mundane as the type of seal used by a notary. Some states require the seal to be in ink, while others require it to be embossed.
But Mr. Obama, seizing on recent reports that banks submitted fraudulent documents to push through home foreclosures, said Congress needs to be more cautious about changing notarization rules.
Some banks have acknowledged that employees had falsely attested they had reviewed the documents.
“We need to think through the intended and unintended consequences of this bill on consumer protections, especially in light of the recent developments with mortgage processors,” Dan Pfeiffer, the White House’s communications director, wrote in a note explaining the decision.
He said administration officials do not question the motives of lawmakers who approved the bill, and he said the White House will “explore the best ways to achieve this goal going forward.”
House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr., who had supported the bill for years and allowed it to pass his committee, did an about-face Thursday and said he was convinced by Mr. Obama’s objections.
“We have not held a hearing on this matter since 2006, and I think it is worth our time to take another look at this issue before we consider legislation to ensure it does not harm consumers,” the Michigan Democrat said.
The bill passed the House in April on a voice vote, and passed the Senate without a single senator objecting on Sept. 27. It was considered so noncontroversial that it received no debate in the Senate, and only the most abbreviated consideration in the House.
Soon after the Senate vote, Congress left town to campaign for November’s elections.
Under the Constitution, the president can block a bill from taking effect if Congress has gone out of session by simply refusing to sign it — a so-called pocket veto.
But while the House is adjourned until mid-November, the Senate is actually still meeting every few days in pro forma session. When Mr. Bush used a pocket veto under similar circumstances in 2007, Democratic leaders in Congress protested, saying it was unconstitutional. Republicans yesterday reprised those comments, challenging Democrats to take on their party’s leader over the issue.
The veto wasn’t the only thumb to Congress’ eye Thursday.
For good measure, the president also issued a “signing statement” on the annual intelligence policy bill, despite having harshly criticized Mr. Bush for his use of signing statements — typically detailing presidential reservations about parts of the law — during his eight-year tenure.
Mr. Obama has now notched two vetoes in his first two years. The first, also a pocket veto, came on a stop-gap spending bill Mr. Obama said was unnecessary because Congress had already passed another bill containing the same funding.
Mr. Bush didn’t veto his first bill until well into his sixth year in office. He ended his two terms with just 12 vetoes, tied with President Kennedy, who served less than three years before he was assassinated in 1963.